Another sewing nerd post! I promised a couple days ago that I would write up a post about the design and sewing process for my new hoodies. Since I wanted to make these available in different sizes and lining variations, the process was a lot more complicated than if I was just making a one-of-a-kind hoodie. The sizing has to match up to the clothing sizes on the rest of my website and the patterns have to be perfect and easy to sew. The price also has to match up with the time and materials that it takes to sew a hoodie, and the quality level has to match up with the price.
About 18 months ago I bought a wonderful book called The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing. Since reading this (and following the blog that goes along with it) I've been trying to change my business and sewing practices so that Deranged Designs can be more like a professional clothing line than a DIY line. Most of the steps that I'm about to describe came straight from the book and the blog, and I'd recommend it to anybody who has an interest in starting their own clothing line.
So, here are the general steps that I took to come up with my new hoodie designs. It will be difficult to include everything but let's hope I don't forget anything important. Finishing all this has taken me a long time, but now that the work is done it will be much easier to come out with new design variations every month.
1. Decide what kind of product to make. This part is easy. My animal print hoodies have been popular for the past several years, so I decided to start making new and improved versions. I didn't really think of a target market to make them for, because my hoodies have been popular with many different types of people. This can make the sizing part complicated (different markets tend to have different body types) but I am still able to make small size customizations on hoodies if people need them. I decided that the new hoodie would fit smaller sizes best (the typical X-Small to Large) and that in the future I will come out another version with larger size options.
2. Find fabric and zippers. This part was already halfway done, because I've been buying animal print fabric and zippers for years. I don't go through the fabric fast enough to buy it wholesale, but I do have a good relationship with a Southern California store that buys it wholesale for their own manufacturing purposes and sells it to me for a decent price. They ship it out within 24 hours of my orders, so if I run out of one print faster than expected I will have more fabric in the mail within 3 or 4 days. In the future I'd like to go through enough of this fabric to be able to buy full 60 yard rolls.
I also needed a new type of fabric for the trim (cuffs and waist). For the past couple years I've been buying black trim fabric from a textile converter down in Southern California with minimums of only one roll. It might take me a year to go through the entire roll but the wholesale price is worth it. For this new hoodie I wanted something more than plain black rib knit. I wanted a fabric that could be used for the trim and the lining, because in the past people have requested cotton fleece lining. So I asked for some samples of stretch fleece and ordered an entire roll after I decided which fabric would work best.
I also purchased basic black lining from Fabricdirect.com (decent wholesale prices) and I found a roll of easy-knit interfacing at the Jo-Ann website for half the regular price. Zipperstop.com sells me zippers at wholesale prices and they have a good selection of jacket zippers, so I chose to make this hoodie with a simple molded plastic zipper. They sell reversible zippers for a good price too, so I decided that I would need to make a reversible version of the hoodie.
3. Fabric Testing: I already know how the animal print fabric, lining fabric, and interfacing behaves in the wash, but I still had to test the new cotton fleece. It had about 7% shrinkage in length- TOO MUCH- so I decided that for now I would make do with pre-washing it 15 yards at a time before cutting into it. If I had a larger volume of sales this might not be a very economical thing to do, but for now it works out OK. In the future I'll need to find pre-shrunk fabric, or make patterns that have shrinkage allowance.
4. Design: When I started this process I had barely any experience with making lined clothing, so I knew that figuring out how to make the lining look great would take just as long as figuring out the fit for a new design. To save time I opted to just make a very simple design, and add features on to it once I get used to sewing it up. A short cropped hoodie is a look that I haven't sold in the past and it is simple enough that I could make tons of practice hoodies without wasting too much fabric. More complicated designs are in the works!
This cheetah hoodie was a practice hoodie. Work still needed to be done on the neckline seam, but I figured it would be OK to use it for the photoshoot because the seam is barely visible.
5. Pattern and fit: I adapted my basic hoodie pattern to have a closer cropped fit. I improved the hood from a two-piece hood to a more fitted 3-piece hood. I followed the directions to pattern lining from the book that I mentioned previously. I made several samples to get the fit right.
The inside stitching of the red zebra hoodie still wasn't perfect, but I've made several samples since this one and they keep turning out better and better.
6. Seam specifications: This step actually came first, but it makes more sense if I describe it here. Before starting work on the new hoodie I borrowed about half a dozen hoodies from my family and I also purchased 4-5 cheap hoodies from a thrift store. I did this to see what types of seams were typical for a basic hoodie pattern. In the end I compared seam types and quality levels of at least 10 different hoodies. The zipper and neckline seams were the most complicated. I wanted to find a seam type that would be easy to sew with the limited amount of equipment I have, while also looking professional on the inside and out. I took apart several hoodies to see the order of operations of the more complicated seams.
In the end I decided to make a full hoodie lining that was finished more like a jacket than a typical cheap hoodie. This required another trip to the thrift store to see how zippered jacket linings are sewn up. Here's the (super ugly) jacket that I took apart to see how it was sewn:
7. Sewing order: after analyzing how the lined jackets were made, I wrote up my best guess on the sewing order and got to work. I changed a couple things around after the first sample was sewn and I also timed myself to see how long it would take to make one hoodie. I took notes on any problems I had while sewing and fixed the pattern so that the problems could be avoided.
One thing I like to do to make timing myself fun is to listen to the same record each time I sew a hoodie. After sewing enough hoodies I can time myself based on which song is currently playing so I know whether I'm speeding up and improving my skills or not making any progress. Listening to fast-paced punk rock is also a good motivator!
8. Pricing: this was actually a step that I had in mind while going through all the other steps. I tried my best to price this hoodie like a real clothing line would and also tried to make the quality level match the price. I know that people are used to artificially low clothing prices (due to markdowns and retailers ripping off clothing lines) but there still seems to be enough people who recognize the real price of manufacturing clothes, so I'm confident that these hoodies will sell. Fabric and production worker wages make up only a small fraction of all the work that goes into a new garment design. Anyways, I added the total fabric/materials cost to the time it took me to sew (while trying to pay myself $15 an hour for the sewing work) and then added my own markup. If I was selling my clothing wholesale, I would add my own markup to cover my costs and then the retail store who buys from me will mark clothes up 2 to 2.5 times to cover their wage and overhead costs and hopefully make a profit. I ended up with several different prices based on quality and hoodie features. The simple partially lined hoodie is $60, the fully reversible hoodie is $90, with a couple other quality and price levels in between.
9. Pattern grading (making patterns for every size): in the summer of 2010 I had my old hoodie pattern graded by a professional patternmaker. Since the new cropped hoodie design is so similar to the old design, this time I opted to do the grading myself because I already had the grading specs. I used paper that had a grid on it and I tried to be as accurate as possible. Now most clothing lines will have their patterns graded in a CAD system (computer-aided design) which makes double checking measurements and adding grade rules easy. The paper and pencil method takes longer but I didn't mind doing it myself this time. I still need to trace out all the sizes and cut them out on thick oak-tag paper.
The book I mentioned says that it is risky to grade your patterns before you get any sales, but since I'm making these to order I don't really have a choice. If I was selling wholesale to other retail stores, the smart thing to do would be to wait to grade the patterns and start production until I got a confirmed wholesale order.
10. Photoshoot: my friends Laura and Mary modeled the hoodies for me and I retouched the end result myself with photoshop. I use a basic DSLR for all my pictures.
11. Adding new hoodies to website: I added all the new hoodies to my website and tried to show as much info as possible. I know that most people won't read the entire item description, but they will hopefully at least pay attention to the sizing info. I still have to add these to my eBay store, where I get more hoodie sales than my website. I also made a new page describing all the characteristics of velboa fur. I tried to answer every single question I've ever got about my hoodies and I'm sure some people will find it useful. My website is easy to update because it has different forms for price, description, etc. But I still know basic HTML to make things look better.
I think that's all for now. I also test-washed all the samples to see how they hold up. I'm wearing one of the samples myself and I plan to thrash it in the washing machine as much as possible to see if the new trim fabric holds up well. So far so good! I've bought sweater fleece from a retail store before and it started pilling within two washes, which made it basically worthless. Fabric shopping can be so aggravating. My wholesale fabric source seems to have much better stuff then the crap you find at retail stores.
Another step that a bigger business would add is marketing and advertising. So far people find me well enough on Google and eBay, so I haven't spent anything extra on advertising. I will probably have to do this in the future though. One thing at a time!
Oh yeah, and tags... my clothes still don't have brand, size, or care/content tags. That's also on my to-do list. Whew.
So, what are you waiting for? Go buy a fucking hoodie!